Cover based third-person shooter Inversion looks and feels very much like other cover based third-person shooters—Gears of War, for example—with the exception of one major thing: gravity. That and a rare innovation with one other video game staple, the exploding barrel.
We've seen Inversion before and been impressed with its gravity manipulation based gameplay. But here's a quick recap: the Lutadores, an invading alien force, attack Earth with gravity-futzing technology. Those alien bad guys start turning our cities upside-down, wreaking gravitational havoc with their alien tech and making life hell for humans.
Inversion players will assume the role of David Russel, a muscle-bound cop, who finds himself in this alien war. He may be a beefy everyman hero, but at least he has hair. (Blond hair!) Player may instead find themselves in the shoes of Russel's partner, Leo Delgado, a similarly physically fit Latino.
Inversion is a completely cooperative game, with the Leo to your David either controlled by AI or another human player. Namco Bandai, publisher of Inversion, promises painless jump-in/jump-out cooperative play.
Inversion's core mechanics are familiar to anyone who's played a Gears of War or Uncharted. Standard third-person shooting, hiding behind walls and waist-high cover, all that business. What the game does differently is play with gravity and how it affects the environment.
First, there's the Gravlink. This is the alien weapon that can manipulate gravity on a personal level. David and Leo each have their own Gravlinks—though we're not sure how they acquire them—and can use them strategically to take down foes.
If a Lutadore enemy is, for example, taking cover behind a toppled brick wall, just barely visible, one can fire a Gravlink shot at that bad guy, causing him to float up into the air. Now coverless, he becomes an easy target. He can also become a weapon, since the Gravlink can snatch floating foes, then launch them into others.
Players can pick up guns, ammo and other objects (like exploding barrels) that then become deadly throwable weapons. One can even grab the fuel from one of those red-colored exploding barrels, which will float in the air in liquid ball form, then throw it at enemies, launching a deadly fireball. Finally, something new for the exploding barrel to do.
Of course, some Lutadores have Gravlinks too. They'll yank you out from cover as well, leaving you floating helplessly while trying to return fire. It's an uncomfortable feeling to be sure.
That Gravlink tool does more than just float people and things up into the air. It can also increase the gravitational pull, slamming enemies into the grab, pinning them under their own weight. Or it can force objects, like a shipping crate suspended from a crane, to become so heavy that it breaks free from its suspension cable, offering David and Leo a new cover opportunity.
There's some potential for puzzles and creativity here, something we hope developer Saber Interactive takes good advantage of.
Beyond the Gravlink weapon, Inversion has a few other gravitational tricks. One is called the Vector Shift, which affects a larger area of space than the Gravlink is capable of. You may be fighting on the streets, enjoying the pull of gravity as normal, while a band of enemy Lutadores walk along the side of a building, with gravity pulling them sideways, not downward. Or gravity may be flipped, so you're fighting bad guys comfortably pulled toward the ceiling. Obviously, that can interfere with your normal cover plans, as an enemy positioned directly above you won't be deterred by whatever you're crouching behind.
Those Vector Shifts can be dynamic—meaning they'll happen on the fly, twisting and turning your world—or they can be static. In static situations, where you'll fight on the floor against enemies walking on the walls, you'll sometimes see gravity conduits that look like tunnels of energy connecting the two. You can hope in those conduits to move between gravity types or even lob grenades into them, which will alter their trajectory according to the flow of gravity.
We got a chance to go hands on with all of this stuff, which was initially disorienting and confusing, but quickly started to make sense. Building an unfamiliar mechanic onto the backbone of a very familiar—perhaps too familiar—shooter game helped Inversion's case as a potentially interesting contender in the genre.
Environmentally, Inversion can be refreshingly unique. We watched some firefights that happened in city streets and on the sides of skyscrapers. Inversion impressed us with its realistic destruction when David Russel took control of a massive turret and tore a dilapidated building apart with gunfire.
We also fought in a huge, lava-filled cavern, a brightly-colored and memorable location that rotated gravity all around us—and offered ample opportunity to launch Lutadore flunkies into molten magma. We took down scores of human slaves and bulky, heavily armored Lutadores with a mix of Gravlink attacks and Earthly weapons, like rifles, machine gunes and shotguns. All those crazed humans and their alien masters died in gory, blood-spraying and limb-lopping fashion. There's clearly a lot of effort being put into this game's environments, visuals and mechanics.
To be honest, though Inversion has some great concepts, it feels perhaps too familiar right now, too reliant on having a gravity-based trick to sell itself. But our time with Inversion was brief, only playing with its Gravlink gun and Vector Shifts for maybe 20 minutes. We did not get to see its other gravity based feature, zero G environments, nor did see how we got to this stage of the war. The build-up may be more fun.
Inversion won't be out until February 2012, so there's plenty of time to perhaps fall in love with this shooter and its potentially game-changing innovations.